Tuesday, 31 July 2007

One more sleep

One more sleep!

Tonight I will probably be counting more sheep that a King Country shearer and turning myself into a Lauren-Sheet-Pretzel due to being excited/worried/happy/sad/excited again about heading to Vietnam then beyond tomorrow. My bags are packed, and in true whangai tradition I've left Max my cat with Dad in Johnsonville. There is lots about NZ I'll miss, like friends, family, and the lollies only bought in New World supermarkets. On balance though I am very excited about finally dealing to those itchy feet.

And as I have blogged about my cat yet again I am very clearly on the downward spiral to being The Simpsons Crazy Cat Lady. Which might be bad, but I'd rather be her than anyone from that inferior cartoon The Family Guy.

Top memories of the last few years

  1. Getting hitched with Lauren. How could the civil union not be No.1? This morning I looked at the photos for the zillionth time, and that giant, dorky smile still comes over my face. Family, friends, making the most important commitment of my life to the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, and so much great food. Happy happy, joy joy.
  2. The fire at Morrinsville. Last year, I saw a man banging his fist against the wall of a blackened house. His dead baby was inside. There were scores of people standing around, but his swearing was the only thing breaking the silence.
  3. Walking out onto the edge of Panekiri Bluff. All that trudging up hill was worth it for the stunning view of Waikaremoana.
  4. Caving at Waitomo. Abseiling into the depths, floating on tubs, looking up at glow worms, walking through steams in absolute darkness, struggling up waterfalls with Chris. Deeply satisfying.
  5. Lauren locking the keys in The Rambler. Whanarua Bay, the first beautiful day of our trip around the East Cape. "Tane … I’ve done something stupid …" Thank goodness Mr Random Mechanic, probably the only one for 50km, lived within a 20 minute walk.
  6. Floating over Hamilton in a hot air balloon. Everyone should do it. Both calming and exhilarating.
  7. Getting our ancestry visas for the UK in the mail. I was giddy with relief. Thank you, blog, for proving our relationship!
  8. The Dragoween Party. Dressing up a Lauren – complete with wig and chest enhancements – then not being able to find a park near our flat. I had to walk the streets of Brooklyn in high heeled boots and a skirt. Fortunately, everyone was watching Guy Fawkes.
  9. Dancing to Goldenhorse at Bar Bodega in Wellington. Lauren and I doing ceroc to ‘Godlen Dawn’. We were so hot.
  10. Iggy Pop going mental at The Big Day Out 2005. My god, that man would be amazing if he was a third his age.
  11. The Rolling Stones in concert. See above, and change ‘man’ to ‘men’.
  12. Hosting the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology’s James Bond – themed ‘Buwaldadash’ social. Thanks, Jinx and the team.
  13. Finally getting my drivers’ license. ‘You did a few things wrong …. But you have passed.’ That was one heavy monkey sitting on my back.
  14. The Tongariro Crossing. Like walking across an alien world.
  15. Sitting beside the Waikato River with Lauren on a beautiful day, watching time go by.
  16. Chris and Mel’s wedding. Perfect weather, great company, a meal to die for.
  17. The walk to Pencarrow Head, at the Wellington Harbour Mouth. What a gorgeous country.

So long, New Zealand. See you soon.

Tane's Reviews: Catching Up on a hectic few weeks

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Has the same strengths and weaknesses as the other Harry Potter movies. The writers and director have done an admirable job of trimming the bloat that made this the worst Harry Potter book, but it is still too full of plot. There is still too much skimming over events.
On the plus side, the cast of quality British supporting actors grows ever larger, with Imelda Staunton excellent as the series’ best villain: the pink-clad, kitten-loving and vicious Dolores Umbridge. The special effects are top draw, with the climatic duels perhaps the best action in the increasingly dark series.


The Lives of Others

Set in East Germany in 1984, this is a riveting, slow-burning portrayal of an East German playwright and his partner under surveillance from the secret police. The acting is magnificent, particularly the man playing the head of the investigation. Grey haired, wearing grey clothes, working in grey offices, he is a man without a life of his own, and becomes absorbed in the lives of those he is watching. Nearly as great as Pan’s Labyrinth, which it upset for Best Foreign Film Oscar.


Blades of Glory

Hilarious mockery of figure skating, starring Will Ferrell and John Heder from Napoleon Dynamite as rivals turned partners. Some very cool figure skating scenes too, and a romance that – unusually for these sort of films – works. A cut above the usual Ferrell-Stiller-Owen comedy.



A nostalgia trip for we children of the 1980s and, if you disconnect your brain, a lot of fun. As you’d expect from Michael Bay (Pearl Harbour, Armageddon, The Rock) it’s all about machines that make things go bang and things going bang. Except for the likeable hero, the human characters are pretty forgettable, but the CGI alien robots aren’t. Some of the action scenes are too blurry and quickly edited to work out what is happening, but otherwise they are amazing.


Shrek 3

Mediocre. A handful of funny bits, and well animated, but it’s time to leave Shrek in that swamp for good.


End Times - Sopranos spoilers warning!

One of the nice things about being back home (along with a five degree increase in temperature) has been getting the chance to finish off two series that have consumed many hours of my life – Harry Potter (see Lauren’s entry below) and The Sopranos.

I’ve loved The Sopranos since I started watching it back in series two. The complex, morally ambiguous characters, the excellent photography, the clever, topical dialogue, black humour and twisting plots - it’s the greatest drama series ever.

I've stuck my thoughts on the last season, particularly the last episode, in a comment. So, if you don't mind spoilers, click away.

Sempre Coca-cola

As I travel, I have decided to rate the diet coke of the world on a scale from one to ten. So far, the Coke Zero produced in NZ is the only ten out of ten, and the marker of what I consider to be perfection. And no, coke is not the same all over the world, for some reason that I do not know and can only imagine has something to do with the water in each place. I found coke in Italy to be much the same as in New Zealand, and the coke in Australia to be similar also. Diet coke in the USA, however, tasted like syrup. The stuff in Tonga was the worst, it tasted like it had been made in a pair of old tramping boots that had just been worn on a lengthy tramp. Without socks. Even the labels are different. Once when I was 18 and on the boat to Capri, a man caught me gawking at the weird label on his coke, and that label began a conversation that resulted in me learning that the man and his three companions were all Auschwitz survivors and the label was from Israeli coke. After talking to me at length about their experiences, the man gave me the label which I still have somewhere as a red and white reminder of that incredibly moving conversation.
So, watch this space and your knowledge of fizzy drink will be greatly enriched! And yes, I am still going to be drinking my fair share of local drinks just in case you are on the verge of a rant against globalisation and multi-nationals.

E noho ra, Te Whanganui a Tara

After months of saving, planning and talking endlessly about the places we want to see, Tane and I are finally leaving NZ for the Northern Hemisphere in two more sleeps.
This morning I flew out of Wellington to Auckland, after saying goodbye to my fabulous friends, the place of work I've largely enjoyed being at for the past four years, and my family. It was a mistake wearing eye makeup for the trip, as by the time the seat belt sign went 'ping' it had smudged all they way to my chin and I looked like a panda wearing war paint. Lucky I am technically a backpacker now, so having black marks on my face might have given me backpacker cred. :) I'm excited about going overseas, but will miss Wellington, the city that is very much my home.
E noho ra, Te Whanganui a Tara! See ya, Wellington.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

8 things I've learnt while travelling

As Tane and I prepare to embark on our trip, I have been giving some thought to how much you can learn while travelling, and lessons I have learnt on previous trips. The ones that spring most instantly to mind are:

1. Do not read underneath coconut trees

When I was in Tonga, I spent much of my time there reading underneath coconut trees. While under the trees, I felt like my holiday was everything a Pacific Island holiday ought to be ... until a coconut fell from the tree I was reading underneath. Lucky for me it landed about half a metre away, but the thud the coconut made when it hit the ground was sufficient for me to quickly realise how bad it could have been if my head had broken its fall.

2. Be careful to use the correct words when speaking a foreign language

While living in Italy I muddled the words for "happy" and "easy". I only realised my mistake after meaning to announce that I was happy to some Italians and all of a sudden a lot of the young guys wanted to be my friend (or so I thought).

3. Don't use a swearword unless you understand the severity of them

Swearwords in other languages can sound like gibberish, and lack the recoil factor bad words in your own language have. I will never forget the look on my history teacher's face in Italy when I used a word that I thought was the Italian equivalent of "damn".

4. Getting lost can be fun

Even if it leads to extreme stress and frustration, you can find the coolest things that no Lonely Planet will ever write about.

5. Don't assume that you speak the same language as other English speakers

I got yelled at once while waitressing in the USA for not fetching someone a "slide", and when I looked confused the yeller screeched (all the while resembling an over-ripe tomato) "Don't you SPEAK English? A SLIDE!" I had no idea that she was talking about saucers.

6. Be prepared to stand out

You don't have to stray far from the tourist track to be as strange to the locals as a three-headed martian. Even in Tonga where I thought plenty of Kiwis went I got followed down the street by a little boy yelling "hello, palangi!"

7. Never, ever, mime "straw"

Trust me on this one. I am lucky I wasn't arrested.

8. Don't pretend you know more Maori than you do

Maybe I am the Grinch who stole national identity, but I get frustrated when NZers who know very little Maori "teach" poor unsuspecting foreigners, or misusing and misspelling Maori words while showing off. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to spread the use of Te Reo. But, before doing so, it’s important to ensure you get the meaning of the words correct. For example, Kia Ora means more than “hello”. I also get frustrated with Kiwis pretending while travelling that singing waiata is part of our way of life when all they know is "Te Aroha" and the main verse of "Pokarekare ana”. It's great to speak Maori and sing waiata while travelling, just be careful not to put Maoritanga on like a pounamu that gets worn while overseas but discarded into the bottom of a drawer as soon as you get home.

Anyone else got any good tips to add?

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Harry Potter - Don't worry, no spoilers here!

After little sleep and much anti-social behaviour, I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows yesterday lunchtime. Now, I don't want to spoil the book for those of you who haven't read it, or bore those of you who don't care and want to put nails through your eyelids at the very mention of "Harry Potter". So, I'm going to review it in "comments". Also, I am going to write the review on the assumption that you have read it, so there will be spoilers galore. You have been warned!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Max the intrepid traveller

Tane and I are moving out of our flat and into Dad's tomorrow. We are also sending off a box of stuff to Ye Olde England, on account of not wanting to carry work type clothes in our backpacks while we are navigating the traffic in Hanoi or trying to remember that in Bulgaria nodding your head means no and shaking it means yes. Max my cat has made it very clear that he wants to join my suits and get shipped also.

Max is a very intrepid traveller for a cat and has been on half a dozen plane trips in his life. Once, he even went to Auckland for half a day by accident due to a mix-up by Air NZ. I will have to break it to him soon though that he will not be joining us but going to West Auckland for a few years, so it will be about bogan t-shirts rather than Kathmandu zip-offs.

And now I have had two separate blog entries about my cat, does that make me only a tiny step away from the crazy cat lady on The Simpsons?

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Yet another photo of Mt Taranaki

I spent last weekend in a small town that was, just last week, the victim of a tornado. No, it wasn't in Kansas as one would expect, but in Oakura, a short drive south of New Plymouth. Oakura was previously famous for being the victim of Tom Cruise's colossal ego during the filming of The Last Samurai back in 2003. Tom Cruise's ego, though, didn't plough through an entire row of houses and cause tarpaulin sales to sky rocket. It also seems that everyone in Oakura now has an exciting story about how they escaped flying shards of glass to match their stories about seeing Cruise buying fish'n'chips. Last weekend, though, the weather was so stunning it is hard to believe that a tornado had been through Taranaki ever, let alone the previous week.

I left Tane at home with Season Five of Angel and went up to Taranaki with Dad and Erin to go to hui, visit the marae, and eat sushi on the waterfront. It was a fabulous and refreshing trip, and now I have been back four days my blood sugar levels have finally recovered from the number of lollies eaten during the trip home. Tane has yet to recover from lack of sleep caused by his Angel watching marathon.

And what blog entry about a visit to Taranaki would be complete without a photo of the stunning Mt Taranaki? Despite what they tried to tell me in The Last Samurai, I don't think it looks like Mt Fuji at all. There are far too many cows in the paddocks.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

It's all about Harry

Like a ba-jillion other people world wide, I am eagerly awaiting the final Harry Potter book. I cannot wait to find out how it all ends, and hope that J.K Rowling ignores all the stupid 'Save Harry' and 'Keep Writing the Books' petitions and winds the series off in a way that maintains its literary integrity.

There are a few things I'd love to see happen in the last book, like something cool to do with Neville Longbottom and something horrendous to do with the Dursleys. I also wonder if Harry's scar is a horcrux, and how the final battle with Voldemort will play out. I wonder, is Snape good or bad? And the most burning question of all - will Ron and Hermione finally get it on?

Guess I just have to wait and see, and ensure that I live in a bubble for the time it takes to read it to not find out about what happens before I manage to read it myself.

My favourite of the books: Half Blood Prince and the Goblet of Fire
Least favourite of the books: Chamber of Secrets and the Order of the Phoenix
Character I would least like to see die: Ron.
Characters I most like: Fred and George, Neville and McGonagall
Characters I least like: Cho Chang and Draco Malfoy.

What about you? Looking forward to the final book, or you really don't care? Do you think HP is fabulous, or over-rated?

Saturday, 7 July 2007

A very typical Wellington night out

As those of you that have moved overseas will know, about three weeks out from D-Day you start doing a series of lasts. Last time you’ll see so-and-so. Last bus ride somewhere. Last Crunchie bar being guzzled in the depature loungue in Auckland. Fitting in with this theme, last Friday night was the last time in a while that the four Keenan girls would go out in Wellington. Joined by some other friends, we had a very fun and Wellington-esque night out. There was Indian food. There was the Big Kumara. There was dancing. And of course, there was karaoke.

There were also sightings of the Blanket Man, and subsequent asking each other “Doesn’t he get cold?” The bucket fountains also got a visit.

We also hung out with the plastic tuatara on Cuba Mall. Is it just me, or does he look incredibly smug?
Last of all, there were kebabs. It wouldn’t have been a proper Wellington night out if it had ended any other way, I suppose.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

How well travelled are you?

Along with what counts as an OE, (see Lauren's entry below), a topic we often discuss in what counts as 'well travelled'. It’s a pointless and completely arbitary discussion – after all, being well travelled in a Nigerian village probably means having gone to the capital – but it is an interesting one.

So, what do you consider well travelled to be?

Is it the number of countries you’ve been to? The time you’ve spent there? The differences in wealth and culture from home? How you travelled – package tour vs backpacking?

Lauren's come up with a simple formula:

Has been to at least three countries in each of at least three continents.

I’m much more of a geek than she is, so I’ve developed something a lot more complex. It’s the second-most maths I’ve done since I was 15 (the first was the test for getting into journalism school, which made my brain hurt), so I’m very proud.

It’s a points-based system that gives you more points for the poorer the country you have been to, whether you went on a tour or backpacked, and the length of time you spent there. This reflects my feeling that experiencing places that are different from your own home reflects how well travelled you are. The more different your experience, the more well travelled you are. For example, going from tour bus to ruin to tour bus to hotel doesn’t get you as close to a different country as backpacking through the countryside.

Let me know if you think it’s fair or unfair, and if you like, send in your score.

Here’s the formula:

First world country or tourist resort (US, Canada, Australia, NZ, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Tahiti, Bali, Phuket, Barbados, etc): 1 point
Second world
(Russia, non-EU Eastern Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, India, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, all of Arabia except for Yemen, the Pacific Islands – bar the Solomons and Papua New Guinea, the Carribean – excluding resort islands and Haiti, South America except for Bolivia,): 2 points
Third World
(the rest of Asia and Africa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Bolivia): 3 points

Note: ‘Colonies’ such as Wales, Greenland, Hawai'i and French Polynesia count as separate countries.

Airport stopovers or a few hours in the Vatican checking out St Peter's don’t count.

Points for a country are doubled if you have spent at least a month there.

Points for a country are tripled if you have spent at least five months there.

Points for a country are quadrupled if you have spent more than five months there, and the native language is not your own.

If you have been to a second or third world country for four days or less, or went there on a tour, you only get one point.

If you want to make things even more complex, if you spent a significant amount of time in a region that was seriously poorer than the country ranking would indicate, alter your score for that country. For example, I’m told southern Italy is more Second World than First, and rural India is more Third World than Second.

Here’s my tally:

US (three weeks – 1 point), Canada (a month – 2 points), Germany (three weeks - 1), France (bit less than a month - 1), Netherlands (three days - 1), Belgium (two days - 1), Italy (a week - 1), Japan (a week - 1), Cambodia (two weeks - 3), Thailand (two days - 1)

Total: 13 points

Now, I think that for an affluent young Westerner, I’ve done a reasonable amount of travel. But I don’t consider myself well travelled yet. So my summary of being well travelled is:

Has been to countries worth at least 18 points.

I’d further qualify that by saying you have to have been to at least three continents and spent at least two weeks in two Second or Third World countries.

Monday, 2 July 2007

What is an OE?

In just over four weeks, we are finally going on our OE. First we fly to Vietnam, and then all sorts of other places in three different continents until settling in either Galway in Ireland or London in Ye Olde England, depending on how we feel at the time. It's all pretty much sorted - the passports have the requisite stamps, and our arms have had the necessary and necessarily painful shots. I am also in the process of trying to mentally prepare Max for a long holiday with Grandma Raema and Grandad Ray.

On the weekend, though, we started one of the worst parts of moving overseas. And no, I'm not talking about the part where you get nostalgicand eat so many Minties you get a headache, go crazy with the kumara chips, and frantically try to learn the words of the haka. On Saturday, we started packing. Shudder. It is no coincidence that 'packing' rhymes with 'what sucks to do when I'd rather be slacking'. One entire floor of our house is so covered in a pile so large soon we will need crampons to navigate it.
This packing business got me thinking about the idea of an OE. Like, what is an OE? Do you have to go to Europe? Is there a minimum time you have to be away from NZ for it to count? I have lived in Italy for one year, and worked in the USA for three months. Do they count? I feel like they don't, but can't articulate why.
Since joining the professional workforce I have met loads of people who have never lived overseas, but have done extensive travelling through some very challenging and diverse parts of the world. Why do many people consider that less of an OE than someone who goes to England and never strays from North America and Western Europe, thus never experiencing the palava of trying to get a tourist visa for a third-world country? I am very curious what you think.